DOJ Sues California After State Enacts Net Neutrality Law

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The DOJ sued the state of California after Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown signed a net neutrality law on Sunday.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against California after Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 822, a bill that would restore net neutrality regulations in the state after the FCC repealed the regulations last December.

The FCC enacted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in December 2017, which repealed the agency’s Obama-era net neutrality regulations which prevented Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast or Verizon from blocking, throttling, and prioritizing Internet content and regulated the Internet as a public utility. Proponents of the rules contend that the regulations would prevent unfair censorship of online content, while critics of the rule believe that net neutrality diminishes Internet freedom and content providers such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter censor far more than ISPs.

In the FCC’s Internet Freedom Order, ISPs have to disclose their policies on blocking, throttling, and prioritizing content on the Internet.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions contended in a statement on Sunday that states cannot regulate interstate commerce, which includes Internet traffic and commerce, only the federal government can enact rules regulating Internet commerce.

Session said:

Under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order.  We will do so with vigor. We are confident that we will prevail in this case—because the facts are on our side.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who led the charge to repeal the net neutrality regulations, said that not only does the California law violate the Constitution, it also will hurt Americans who use the Internet.

Pai said:

I’m pleased the Department of Justice has filed this suit.  The Internet is inherently an interstate information service.  As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area.  And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reaffirmed that state regulation of information services is preempted by federal law.

Not only is California’s Internet regulation law illegal, it also hurts consumers.  The law prohibits many free-data plans, which allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits.  They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans.  But notwithstanding the consumer benefits, this state law bans them.

Roslyn Layton, a tech policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said in a statement on Monday that she believes that the country needs one single, national policy to guide Internet regulation.

“California’s net neutrality bill is misguided, unlawful and anti-competitive.  I expect a quick and decisive ruling in favor of the Justice Department’s legal challenge to maintain the rule of law, as the bill is a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Communications Act, and the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” Layton explained. “The U.S. needs a single national policy for the internet, not a patchwork approach with 50 different sets of rules that would kill innovation and deter internet adoption.”

In contrast to Pai and Sessions, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Sunday that the Trump Administration ignored “millions of Americans who voiced strong support for net neutrality rules” while California is “home to countless start-ups, tech giants and nearly 40 million consumers – will not allow a handful of power brokers to dictate sources for information or the speed at which websites load.”

“The Internet is free and open today, and it will continue to be under the light-touch protections of the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” Pai added.


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